Minoxidil Foam vs. Liquid: Which Is The Best Option for You?
Minoxidil is a vasodilator that widens blood vessels and increases blood flow to the scalp. This increases nutrient and oxygen delivery to hair follicles. Androgenic alopecia, the most common form of hair loss in men and women, is characterized by an extended resting phase in the hair follicle growth cycle and miniaturization of hair follicles. This leads to hair thinning and baldness. Topical minoxidil is a standard treatment for androgenetic alopecia, and it is used off-label to improve other conditions that cause hair loss.1
Minoxidil is considered to be a safe and effective treatment for hair loss.1 It is available over the counter in a liquid and foam formulation. Each of these delivery methods has benefits and drawbacks.
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The Differences Between Minoxidil Liquid and Minoxidil Foam
Minoxidil liquid is available in a 2% and a 5% solution and a 5% foam. Minoxidil solution contains water, alcohol, and propylene glycol as stabilizers and inactive ingredients. These ingredients can cause dryness and irritation in sensitive individuals. Minoxidil foam is propylene glycol free. However, it contains cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and butylated hydroxytoluene.2
Both minoxidil foam and liquid preparations are clinically tested. They are effective but may lead to different results or side effects in some people.
Minoxidil effectively stimulates hair regrowth, with success rates varying among individuals. It is effective in less than one-third of men with male-pattern hair loss and approximately two-thirds of women with female-pattern hair loss.3,4 Notably, the 5% minoxidil solution and foam have shown superior results compared to the 2% solution. Men and women who used the 5% solution or foam exhibited a significantly higher increase in mean hair density when compared to those using the 2% solution or a placebo.5,6 This difference in effectiveness is attributed to the enhanced blood flow to the scalp associated with the higher-strength solution. However, it’s essential to note that minoxidil may take up to four months to demonstrate visible results.
The 5% solution also outperforms the 2% solution when addressing male-pattern baldness, with users of the more concentrated solution experiencing a 45% increase in hair regrowth at 48 weeks. Additionally, men using the 5% minoxidil solution exhibited a quicker treatment response than those using the 2% solution.5
In clinical studies involving women aged 18 to 45 with mild-to-moderate hair loss, approximately 40% reported minimal hair regrowth after eight months, while 19% reported moderate hair regrowth. Another study revealed that individuals using the 2% minoxidil solution had eight more hairs per square centimeter, and those using the 5% solution had 12.4 more hairs per square centimeter than individuals using a placebo. Long-term observations over five years indicated that peak hair regrowth typically occurred at one year.1
Like all medications, minoxidil can cause side effects, especially in people who are more sensitive to its ingredients. The most common side effects of topical minoxidil are largely skin-related and include:
- Changes in hair color or texture
- Excessive hair growth
- Scalp itching
- Scalp scaling
According to drugs.com, the following serious side effects may occur when using minoxidil:
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- Rapid weight gain from fluid retention
- Severe scalp irritation
- Swelling in the hands and feet
- Unwanted excessive facial hair growth
- Vision changes
Of the two preparations, minoxidil liquid is more likely to cause irritation and scalp itching than the foam. This is attributed to its propylene glycol content. Learn more about minoxidil itchy scalp: what causes it and how it is treated.
Minoxidil foam is applied to your fingers or scalp and rubbed into the scalp. The preparation may feel slightly drying, but it is absorbed quickly and is easy to use. Minoxidil foam does not drip, which makes it easier to keep it off the face or neck.
Because minoxidil liquid contains propylene glycol, which holds onto excess water, it is more likely to make your hair look greasy, even after it has dried. However, if you have dry hair or difficulty getting the medication to your scalp, the liquid formulation may be a better choice.
Minoxidil foam may be more convenient to use than the liquid preparation because it is applied with a nozzle. It dries quickly and does not spread to untreated surrounding areas as easily as minoxidil liquid.
Minoxidil liquid is applied to the scalp twice daily using a small dropper. This can be important if you have a small patch of hair loss to treat because it allows for more precise application. However, it is more time-consuming to apply minoxidil liquid.
Liquid minoxidil slides more easily down hair shafts and into the hair follicle, which could make it more effective to use, especially if you have long hair along with patches of hair loss. However, it is also much easier to spill than the foam version.
Deciding Between Minoxidil Foam and Minoxidil Liquid
Many people choose to make hair loss treatment part of their age management plan. There are two approved categories of medication used for hair loss: minoxidil, which comes in a foam, liquid, and oral version, and finasteride, which comes in an oral version.
Minoxidil is available over the counter, and finasteride is prescription-only, so many people try minoxidil first. Whether to use the 5% foam or liquid is purely an individual choice, as the effectiveness of both are very similar. If you have sensitive skin, minoxidil foam may be the better choice because it lacks propylene glycol.
- Suchonwanit P, Thammarucha S, Leerunyakul K. Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2019 Aug 9;13:2777-2786. doi: 10.2147/DDDT.S214907. Erratum in: Drug Des Devel Ther. 2020 Feb 10;14:575. PMID: 31496654; PMCID: PMC6691938.
- Purnak T, Senel E, Sahin C. Liquid formulation of minoxidil versus its foam formulation. Indian J Dermatol. 2011;56(4):462. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.84714
- DeVillez RL. The therapeutic use of topical minoxidil. Dermatol Clin. Apr 1990;8(2):367-75.
- Olsen EA, Dunlap FE, Funicella T, et al. A randomized clinical trial of 5% topical minoxidil versus 2% topical minoxidil and placebo in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in men. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2002;47(3):377–385. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2002.124088
- Blume-Peytavi U, Hillmann K, Dietz E, Canfield D, Garcia Bartels N. A randomized, single-blind trial of 5% minoxidil foam once daily versus 2% minoxidil solution twice daily in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in women. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;65(6):1126–1134.e1122. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2010.09.724